More than $16 million in state funds are available for rural and downstate schools to expand Internet access and close the broadband gap, state Sen. Andy Manar announced Thursday.
The Illinois State Board of Education is accepting proposals from school districts that need to expand high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi access in classrooms. Manar, D-Bunker Hill, chairman of one of the Senate’s two budget committees, ensured money was included in the current state budget to help rural school districts access broadband internet so they can offer a 21st century education to students. The effort had bipartisan support.
“Schools can no longer get by without high-speed Internet and digital resources in classrooms,” Manar said. “Students in many rural and downstate areas of Illinois are at a disadvantage because of the lack of reliable high-speed internet in classrooms and at home.”
Applications for funding are available at www.isbe.net/broadband. They are due by 4 p.m. Jan. 25. The Learning Technology Center of Illinois www.ltcillinois.org is offering free assistance to school districts to help with their applications.
In Illinois, 77 school districts need fiber connections, and 31 need bandwidth upgrades, according to Education Superhighway, an organization that advocates for increased connectivity in schools.
The organization reports that more than 650,000 students in Illinois have gained access to high-speed internet since 2015 and that 96 percent of school districts have access to broadband now, up from 71 percent in 2015.
However, more than 400,000 Illinois students remain at a disadvantage when it comes to digital learning.
Fiber optic technology offers fast, affordable network speeds and allows school districts to cost-effectively scale up to meet growing bandwidth needs.
The $16.3 million in available state funding will cover the costs of special construction projects for school districts with federal approval to install fiber optic cable lines.
To find out which area school districts are in need of upgrades, visit https://www.compareandconnectk12.org/.